Last in our North Star trio was a whisky from its 2nd series simply named “Islay”. We sampled it blind and were floored by the reveal with an introduction to a new independent bottler who certainly seems to be bringing quality and value to his selections.
Islay 8 year (June 2008 / May 2017) 58.3% 1 of 230 bottles
Nose – A sour peat… dare I say it… almost headache inducing? Certainly highly medicinal. Which then slipped into ham, pineapple, mellow with a very different character than how it began, lemon tart, musk melon, some spice… shifted again this time into smoked sweet grass, green coffee beans, cut hay, quite vegetal, dry forrest
Palate – Starts exceedingly smooth then SPICE. Had a phenolic Islay style sweet peat not the palate with smoked pepper ham, with more fruits like grilled pineapple and apricot
Finish – Sweet, slightly briney and ends with something we couldn’t quite name… after going on and on and on…..
Water – Wow! What a difference! It really brought out the best qualities – the nose took on a peak smoke with dark chocolate and cherries, the palate augmented the sweet peat with a berry dimension and the finish then revealed beneath the salty sweet ash a light citrus sweet
As the last of our trio, we joked that perhaps the theme of the evening was spice, sweet and slow things down as each whisky took its time to fully reveal its character.
Our talk turned to speculate the origins of this dram. For all it was sufficiently distinctively Islay to fall in that camp. But which one? We veered towards Caol Ila which, though not actually stated by the bottler, may very well be the case.
The extra fruitiness that emerged behind the peat made sense once I learned the whisky was finished in a pair of ex-sherry octave casks.
Ardmore Peat 8 year (June 2008 / Oct 2016) 58.7% 1 of 198 bottles
Nose – PEAT, oily, sulfer, soapy, capsules… like walking into a doctor’s or chemist shop, iodine, steam engine, musty… then started to shift character revealing waves and waves of cinnamon, plums, mosambi juice, dark juicy fruits, black cherry, cinnamon apple juice, sour cherries…. kept evolving shifting from fruits to a slightly oily soot, like sacred ash, then a bit lactic, old flowers like malas after a day or so… then dark chocolate… and yet another element revealing such a delicious BBQ honey bacon, lots of smoked meats, light tar… followed by coffee, creamy yoghurt… an absolutely unbelievable nose
Palate – Sweet roaring spice, lots of sweet peat, stewed chewy fruits, then sweet meats and BBQ. Has good body, lots of character, oodles of spice yet still beautifully balanced between all the elements.
Finish – Chocolate cinnamon with a slight orange zest with a “hold” that really stays… dry
Water – Brilliant with! Becomes so sweet, lovely honey bacon with a mandarin perfume twist on the nose, silky smooth with a lovely rolling cinnamon sweet on the palate and fantastic finish.
We began to speculate, while it clearly had peat, we thought it wasn’t an obvious Islay dram, yet still likely Scottish. It has a gentle peat quality, pronounced, firmly there but with a subtle hand.
Thinking about the cask, we wondered about french oak? Something that gives a good kick like the way the virgin oak does for Spice Tree.
Again we guessed cask strength and absolutely loved the way water gave it even more “something.”
One remarked that it was a bit “naughty” in the nicest possible way…
Could any of us pick out that it was Ardmore! Not a chance… and that too from a new independent bottler? Impossible.
This was an evening of discovery… starting with tasting completely blind a mystery malt… which turned out to be a 20 year Glenrothes from North Star’s Cask Series 001…
Glenrothes 20 year (Oct 1996/Oct 2016) 54.6% 1 of 198 bottles, Refill sherry
Colour – Yellow gold
Nose – Light varnish, heavy honey, citrus lemon, then marmalade, apricot, like breakfast cereal, sense of being very “full”, dry fruits, creme rum and raisin, sense of high alcohol, creamy toffee, chocolate chips, shifting into a curl of tobacco, black ‘bara’ elichi. After time it shifted into molasses and powdered icing sugar with sweet spices
Palate – An explosion of flavour. Salty caramel, completely matches the nose with force… sharp then diffuses into fruity deliciousness. The 2nd sip was much spicier with a creamy quality. And the 3rd revealed tobacco, tannic and dry… then shifted into a sweet perfume palate. Simply “yum!”
Finish – Bitter with a ‘khatta‘ sourness like tart apples, initially seemed short, then we realized it is quite the opposite – a lovely long finish with hazelnut pepper and red fruits
Water – Kicked up the spice – particularly on the finish, changed and holds. Normally we find water can initially notch up the spice, then mellows. In this case, it remains – lots of peppers, really holds its own with water, reveals a lovely mocha coffee
We joked that it “Tastes delicious on the nose!” like walking into a cookie store! It really teases, from sweetness to bitter with a beautiful balance. Another thought it would make a great “cigar” malt….
We speculated it must have a high alcohol content – likely cask strength, definitely Scottish, well constructed though we thought perhaps it may not be very old – perhaps 8 – 12 years? We really appreciated its fabulously long finish.
We also observed it had a terrific synch between its aromas and palate – both delicious and mirroring their notes.
The reveal was such a surprise. None of us would have guessed it could be 20 years. Some remarked their mixed experience with Glenrothes, finding it sometimes over-priced for what it delivers.
July brings monsoon rains, vacations and often a slightly slower pace of life… and yet this month still had a rather admirable set of whisky tasting experiences. And even though technically only 1 of our 3 Mumbai whisky tasting groups “officially” met, somehow gatherings over a dram still happened… read on…
There is something so fabulous about being truly surprised.
Which is why our original Mumbai tasting group keeps to its habit of tasting blind. Sometimes we reveal each whisky immediately after tasting, other times we wait until we have sampled all three whiskies.
In this case, it was after tasting all three drams and what a reveal! Why?
As it introduced North Star Spirits, a new independent bottler based in Glasgow. Starting in just 2016, we understand it is a “one man” operation by Iain Croucher, earlier part of A.D. Ratraay group.
Interestingly, he has a distribution relationship in Germany with Sansibar – which is another independent bottler that caught my attention recently for its ability to spot good casks for relatively reasonable rates.
My photos do not do justice to their packaging which is …
What did we sample?
North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Glenrothes 20 year (Oct 1996/Oct 2016) 54.6% 1 of 252 bottles
North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Ardmore Peat 8 year (June 2008 / Oct 2016) 57.1% 1 of 198 bottles
North Star’s Cask Series 002 – Islay 8 year (June 2008 / May 2017) 58.3% 1 of 230 bottles
Unfortunately North Star bottles have already captivated attention that it is best to pre-order online as they seem to be snapped up quickly!
You can also find even more Whisky bits ‘n bobs on:
And our original group? We were introduced to a remarkable new independent bottler – North Starwith a terrific trio of:
North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Glenrothes 20 year (Oct 1996/Oct 2016) 54.6% 1 of 252 bottles*
North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Ardmore Peat 8 year (June 2008 / Oct 2016) 57.1% 1 of 198 bottles*
North Star’s Cask Series 002 – Caol Ila 8 year (June 2008 / May 2017) 58.3% 1 of 230 bottles*
Last month, I took our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents on aEuropean Explorationand caught up with all the tasting notes which had a clear divide between ones we quite enjoyed…. and those we decidedly did not!
The thumbs “down” category included:
This Buckwheat from Bretagne – Eddu Silver Buckwheat Whisky 40% – falls into the “different” and “unusual” and with that perspective, the gents gave the experiment a “go” but wouldn’t repeat.
France – Domaine Des Hautes Glace Organic Single Malt 42%– Picked up purely on ‘spec’ at La Maison du Whisky, it had a fungal aroma that was terrible and even more suspect was the growth like sedimentation that was likely caramel colouring – despite the bottle stating the colour was natural. Avoid.